Many Manitoulin communities, women take part in National Ribbon Skirt Day

Many ladies in the M’Chigeeng community joined with some students at Lakeview School for a photograph at the Lakeview Elementary School on January 4, for National Ribbon Skirt Day.

M’CHIGEENG—Ladies and students in the M’Chigeeng First Nation community as well as other Manitoulin communities took part in the National Ribbon Skirt Day, on January 4.

“We are grateful for and proud of Isabella Kulak who inspired a Nation through her resistence, courage and bravery,” stated M’Chigeeng Ogimaa-kwe Linda Debassige. She pointed out that, “although the Bill (proclaiming National Ribbon Skirt Day) was just passed in December, today is actually the second Ribbon Skirt Day that has been recognized and observed by Indigenous people, but the first officially recognized by Canada.”

After a call went out by Ogimaa-kwe Debassige and band administration encouraging members of the community to take part by wearing ribbon skirts and showing support and pride, Kimberley Debassige and Candi Kaiser organized a M’Chigeeng Ribbon Skirt Day photograph event in the community.

“Today, in our community, members wore their Ribbon Skirts and Ribbon Shirts,” said Ogimaa-kwe Debassige. “Many students at Lakeview School also participated by donning their finest and most beautiful attire. Staff members and members of the community were invited to gather at Lakeview School and participate in a small gathering and a photo opportunity with our students.”

Kimberley Debassige told The Expositor, “at 10:30 am, the morning of January 4th, I messaged my friend Candi Kaiser saying that we should do a photo shoot with ribbon skirts. Candi of course was all for it.”

Ms. Debassige sent out a messenger request to her family group chat asking if anyone was available to do a photo shoot in their ribbon skirts at noon hour. “My cousin, Gayle Payette, who is the principal at Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng First Nation, threw out the idea of doing a photo at Lakeview with the students. This thought was perfect. It really made sense considering the day was initiated by then-grade 5 student Isabella Kulak from Cote First Nation in Saskatchewan.”

Ms. Debassige called the band office, Kenjgewin Teg and the M’Chigeeng Health Centre, inviting anyone who wished to join in the community photo to be at Lakeview School at noon. The photo shoot, “was a powerful statement of unity and action and just how quickly we can come together and make something happen. In my view, it was a statement of pride, resistance, resilience and healing. Just seeing the young surrounded by the aunties, grandmothers, and the chief of the community, shares a statement beyond what one physically sees in the moment.”

“The young ones are change makers and we can see this in so many ways and having them see us continually standing beside and behind them, supporting them and encouraging them is a powerful motivator to continue to make changes happen,” continued Ms. Debassige.

Ogimaa-kwe Debassige explained, “In December 2020, 10-year-old Isabella Kulak from Cote First Nation wore a ribbon skirt to Kamsack Comprehensive Institute on formal day. An education assistant shamed her for wearing a ribbon skirt and told her it was inappropriate. The education assistant told her that her skirt didn’t match her shirt and wasn’t dressy enough for a formal day, and went on to tell her that she should have worn a store-bought outfit similar to the other students.”

The school division apologized, but Ms. Kulak’s story sparked a movement of Indigenous women posting photos of themselves donning their own ribbon skirts and led to calls for a national day to be created.

“On January 4, 2021, on Isabella’s first day back to school after the incident, a march was held to walk her to class,” continued Ogimaa-kwe Debassige. “Women wore ribbon skirts and men wore their ribbon shirts.”

“As a result of this, Senator Mary Jane McCallum introduced a bill into the senate to make January 4 National Ribbon Skirt Day. The bill recognizes that Indigenous women are lifegivers and are entrusted with traditional knowledge to care for their families, their communities and the environment, that the ribbon skirt is a centuries-old spiritual symbol of womanhood, identity, adaptation and survival and is a way for women to honour themselves and their culture; that the ribbon skirt represents a direct connection to Mother Earth and its sacred medicines. The bill was passed and made into federal law last month.”

“Every year on January 4, National Ribbon Skirt Day will provide an opportunity for everyone to recognize, learn about and celebrate the importance of Indigenous traditions and expressions of culture,” said Ogimaa-kwe Debassige. “We encourage everyone to show your support by wearing your Ribbon Skirt or Ribbon Shirt proudly.”

Ms. Kulak, who is now 12, told Canadian Press that she planned to mark the occasion on Wednesday with a celebration at her home community, and she encouraged others “to wear something that shows the world who they are.”

Also taking part in National Ribbon Skirt Day were the staff of Naandwechige-Gamig Wikwemikong Health Centre, Manitoulin Secondary School, some staff from St. Joseph’s Anishinabek School in Sheshegwaning also taking part and some staff and students wearing ribbon skirts at Little Current Public School.